Companies No Longer Talk Soft on Soft Skills

Soft skills are critical in the workplace outshining the basic requirement of specialized knowledge.

This insight has been official for quite some time. And anyone giving the impression that honing soft skills is a millennial trend has either just landed or is desperate to impress. Having motivated colleagues who work well with each other through highs and lows and who have a positive, compassionate, and flexible attitude throughout is what demarcates an effective and harmonious workplace from a dysfunctional one. Far from relegating remuneration secondary, soft skills create a pleasant workplace that spurs on the ripple effect of enthusiastic productivity, which if not rewarded, will have companies lose their best members of staff. More so, in today’s disruptive world.

In fact, I do believe that the current emphasis on soft skills points to much more than what companies are seeking when taking people on board. To begin with, soft skills are sorely lacking which should make us wonder about children’s upbringing and what is being imparted at school, college, training centers, and universities.

Furthermore, though profit-making will always be the name of the game in any business, how to make loads of it, can never rest on old formulae. Moreover, given the escalating pace of AI and intrapreneurs, the entire concept of staff is being re-written. On one hand, the emphasis on soft skills manifests how employers are bending over to sustain and increase their market share. Yet it is no longer a one-sided, cash-register eyed strategy because more and more employers no longer have the exclusivity of calling the shots. I also feel that the trending focus on soft skills is an indirect cry for safeguarding our humaneness in a world that is hurtling towards AI. In fact, I regard the term as a misnomer because it makes more sense to call them essential skills because they encompass what is essential in relating to each other.

Check out any soft skills guide and you will find that the umbrella of desirable qualities that complement knowledge, competence, and experience fall into three essential overlapping elements: people skillssocial skills, and personal attributes.

What interweaves these fundamentals? The answer is an ability to understand, to assess, to communicate, to inspire – all with more than a sprinkle of politeness and poise.

As rapid change squalls today’s workplace and a tight labour market are turning recruitment into a nightmare, several organisations are valuing soft skills over university degrees, consequently shifting their focus on what personal touches prospective employees can bring to the table. The same focus is also pivotal to staff development which is no longer a question of simply furthering studies to obtain better qualifications. While the list of hard skills reflects the surge towards an automated and augmented workplace, the way employees get things done, the way they adapt, gel and take decisions makes or breaks both personal and company success.

 The in-demand soft skills which keep workers in demand

  1. Creativity

Generating ideas and conceiving solutions demands an extraordinary mental/emotional agility while thinking out-of-the-box. Reflection and brainstorming are also part of the equation and should be doubly encouraged among multinational staff for as the famed Italian film director Federico Fellini once affirmed: A different language is a different vision of life.” The same goes for different age groups and genders. Edward Debono’s concept of lateral thinking (first publicized in 1967) which shies away from classic vertical logic to problem-solving combined with his 6 Thinking Hats (1985) also challenges people to take a multifaceted and creative approach to problem-solving.

  1. Persuasion

Winning over people’s minds and hearts is the point at which a seal is put to a deal – meaning that no matter how great the product or concept, it needs a perfect sales pitch. Persuasion is essentially the art of selling in both the commercial and political spheres. For this reason, it is much maligned. The good news; however, is that many millennials are adopting a more ethical and socially conscious approach. Meanwhile, marketing and sales teams (which should work in sync) are also waking up to the reality of authentic emotional appeal as against mere smooth talk. True enough, some people are born with velvety tongues, yet learning the rules of rhetoric which is best defined as the art of effective communication, melds emotional appeal with rational argument to persuade its target audience.

  1. Collaboration

This is all about reaching out to people and dumping diva egos. Although team building plays its part, the bottom line is to acknowledge that no one knows it all. No one is indispensable and everyone is important. This may seem a contradiction in terms, yet a closer reading shows that empathy rather than ego should be in the driver’s seat.

  1. Adaptability

Flexibility is another sought after attribute because it is becoming even more complex in a globalized workplace. All members of staff need to remember that yesterday’s solutions are unlikely to solve today’s, let alone tomorrow’s problems. Having said that, simply scoffing at what is dated can turn out to be a costly mistake. Adaptability also needs to be guarded against exploitation for there will always be shirkers. For starters, directors and managers must lead by example while ensuring that everyone walks the talk.

  1. Time-management

Prioritising is the No. 1 requisite here closely followed by acquiring the discipline to ward off distractions. Delegating fair workloads is also a must. Significantly, more and more studies are emerging to prove that moving away from the traditional 8-hour workday boosts productivity. More and more companies are embracing short 10-15-minute breaks between tasks which refresh both mind and body since they are finally waking up to a well-known truth that spending more than an hour on the same task (especially when sitting down) eventually has concentration levels wan by the early afternoon and struggling to keep up an iota of enthusiasm. KPMG, Deloitte and several other companies are going even further by experimenting with a 4-day week (without any pay cuts) in order to improve work/home balance. The astounding result: a sharp rise in productivity all round. Expect more radical change as tomorrow’s intrapreneurs become mainstream.

  1. Courtesy & Humour

In a world gripped by the tyranny of relativism and schadenfreude, good manners are often given the thumbs down. Yet it does not take much to realise that politeness is the best soothing oil in daily interaction and immediately ups a ‘feel-good factor’. Taking the trouble to understand and discuss cultural differences further instils mutual respect.  As for appropriate humour, nothing beats a good laugh. Charles Chaplin was so right when he said that ‘A day without laughter is a day wasted.’

 Where and how to learn soft skills

One’s upbringing and personal traits inevitably provide an edge, … or an axe. Nevertheless, both nature and nurture foster soft skills. Today’s easy access to online courses and webinars should be entrenched as regular inhouse training, rather than a gap-filler in a staff development programme.

Even more pressing, is the coming together of the private sector and schools to incorporate the entire spectrum of hard and soft skills within curricula. This is the way forward to bridge the current skills gap, which will widen further if not addressed before entering the labour market.

Combining the dynamism of younger staff with the life-swing experiences of the older generations is a cherry to savour if you want to enhance your soft skills. Another deep well is a reflection on regular exposure to literature, music, art, film, and the Classics. In an age hooked on instant money rewards, what is often denigrated as totally unnecessary is more necessary than ever. Why? Because a strictly utilitarian mindset is both sterile and shallow, meaning a barren rather than a fertile, life-giving terrain. A manic focus on functionality makes me think of the arid landscapes in which sci-fi is set. They invariably loom as a desert of the heart. A workplace which lacks the essence of essential skills is such a desert.

Above all, cultivating a listening ear and looking at the world through the heart is what clinches cognitive and emotional intelligence – the ultimate bedrock of essential skills which no AI can ever replace.

How to put all this in a nutshell? Put people first above policies and profits.

#softskills #essentialskills

Noemi Zarb
Noemi Zarb
Writing, teaching, marketing. I have pursued three totally different career paths with the power of words serving both as link and lynchpin. Now I dedicate most of my time to writing - a never-ending romance. Typical of content writing I have been and am still responsible for scripting webs, advertorials as well as full-length articles. As a feature/opinion writer, I have over 600 articles published in Malta's leading newspapers and magazines (and still counting) - an experience which honed my interviewing skills when I interviewed countless painters and people involved in the performance arts. I also have over two decades of teaching English Literature and Critical Thinking via Textual Analysis under my belt having prepared students for the IB Diploma in English Language and Literature as well as MATSEC, IGCSE and SEC examinations in English language and English Literature. TEFL sometimes punctuated my summer holidays. Dealing with young people keeps you young and I have truckloads of cherished memories of my past students My current writing continues to be inspired by what life throws at me together with my critical thinking of what goes on (or doesn’t) around me firing my sense perception and vice versa. Being immersed in the corporate world gives me endless opportunities to observe facets of human behavior which invariably have me brood over. Learning and thinking over what I learn is still my way forward.
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Maureen Nowicki
Maureen Nowicki

Your soft skills “should be essential skills”in the workforce of today…I am wholeheartedly with you. As for built in training as part of the coordination with HR/team leads and personal development plans; there is truly no reason for not being able to incorporate and hone soft skills training in tandem with hard/technical skills. People are the pulse of business and if we give them a well-rounded compliment of options to grow themselves, does that not inadvertently equal profit for the organization? I believe so. Powerful and meaningful words for both individuals and organizations to consider, Naomi.

Dr. Eugene Fram

May I also suggest you add critical thinking, a variety of skills including: logic, design thinking, computational thinking, decision making, etc. ? Might also want to drop name of soft skills and refer to them as strategic skills? Great article.

Mary Schaefer

I’m with you, Noemi. Soft skills = Essential skills. Yes.

You ended your article with, “Put people first above policies and profits.” I find it sad that some people don’t get that putting people first, if you approach it right, supports and leads to profit. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Thank you for reinforcing a message that bears much repeating.

John Dunia

Always excellent Noemi. Interestingly, I’ve never really worked in big corporate and most of my jobs have been a self-employed type of work. Most of your suggestions are ways that I already operate so it seems a bit odd that most can’t grasp that style of management – although I know most rarely do.
I really do hope that people (business owners and top managers) begin to understand that while profit is important to keep business alive, cultivating employees is your best offense (and defense) to keeping the business alive.

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